Riot police are on standby in Brussels today, as some 80,000 people march through the Belgian capital, demanding theEuropean Union give labor unions a larger role in shaping social policy and do more to cut unemployment. A two-daysummit of EU leaders begins today, and is expected to draw anti-globalization activists from across Europe for threeother demonstrations this weekend. 3,000 riot police and horse patrol police officers equipped with water cannonshave been deployed on the streets, and Belgian air force F-16 fighters have been placed on alert.
The protests in Brussels have been largely peaceful, but looming large in everyone’s minds is the violence of recentanti-globalization demonstrations in Gothenberg, Sweden and Genoa, Italy. The force used by Italian police to breakup demonstrations at last month’s Group of Eight summit in Genoa prompted an international outcry. During the riotsin Genoa, one protester was fatally shot, more than 200 were injured and 300 were arrested Photographs and videotapesshow police beating and kicking protesters who were on the ground.
In one of the bloodiest incidents, police raided a school housing some of the demonstrators, beating them andthrowing them down stairwells. Dozens of protesters were hospitalized, and one required brain surgery. Televisionfootage showed blood-smeared walls and floors after the police raid. The behavior of the Italian police at Genoaprompted criticism even from those who usually condemn the anarchists for turning otherwise peacefulanti-globalization protests into riots.
Only a month earlier, when President Bush, traveled to meet with the European Commission and the Swedish presidencyof the EU, thousands of protesters turned out into the streets of Gothenberg to greet him. The 25,000 or soprotesters who converged in Gothenberg, 300 miles south of Stockholm, were met by thousands of riot police. One ofthose protesters was 19 year old Hannes Westberg, who is one of three protesters shot and injured by police.Westberg was shot in the side, lost 300 units of blood, and went into a coma for two months. He lost a spleen and akidney and burst his aorta.
Westberg was recently convicted of rioting and one count of assault against policeman. He is one of 28 protesterssentenced to prison after the demonstrations. Westberg will serve 5 months of jail time. But the video that policeused in the trial had been edited.
- Uri Gordon, Independent Media Center in Brussels.
- Gunnar Westberg, medical doctor and board member of National Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War;father of Hannes Westberg, protester shot by police during the EU Summit in Gothenberg last spring.
- Alan, lawyer who works with the web magazine Interactivist Info Exchange.